A Sailing Adventure up Dean Channel, Central Coast of BC

As we pulled into Eucott Bay, the aroma of evergreen trees from the forest on our port side was so strong it felt like I was at a Christmas tree farm. Soon we noticed two small black bears on the grassy shore near the entrance. Unfortunately they quickly started running away as soon as they heard the sound of our engine from a mile away.

Eucott was our first stop on a trip up Dean Channel at the end of May. It felt like a bit of an adventure because it’s a new area to us, and one that few other boaters go to (so there’s relatively little advice about it in the guidebooks and charts). In our four days there we only saw one boat cruising Dean Channel.

Fisher Channel, leading into Dean Channel, is one of many inlets and channels the Central Coast has that lead quite far inland from the standard Inside Passage route. We sailed about 30 miles in, but overall it goes at least 60 miles inland. Once in Dean Channel it becomes increasingly remote and rugged, with numerous mountains that get taller and more snow capped as you go further in.

Fisher Channel leading into Dean Channel. Eucott Bay is the furthest in anchorage we visited (at the northeast end of the red line), then we backtracked to Elcho Harbor and then Ocean Falls.

A larger view of the Central Coast. The region we were exploring is only a tiny part of it, inside the red square. That tells you a bit about how much there is to explore here!

There are several good anchorages along the way, so knew we’d have multiple options to shorten or extend the sail. We don’t normally sail into long inlets like this because usually it means little sailing and a lot of motoring. This time though I knew we very likely could at least get a great sail on the way in. Fisher Channel has had inflow winds in the 15-20 knot range all week.

Eucott Bay

Eucott Bay was our first (and furthest) stop in Dean Channel, after a long day running in downwind. We sailed from Codville Lagoon to Eucott in about 9 hours. It made sense to use the inflow wind as long as we could, because we knew it‘d be a lot more work getting out – so we planned the return journey to have shorter hops.

Eucott has some spectacular views of mountains, lush green valleys, and a “half dome” tall rock formation. It also has a hot springs, collected in a man made bathing pool. However it was way too hot for me. Natalie was able to bear it, but only for about 2 minutes. It must have been 125 F or hotter. It felt like I’d be burned, and I could easily make a cup of tea out of it.

Advice we read said you can control the temperature a bit by redirecting the hose that feeds hot water into the pool. But that hose was already directed out of the pool. However it didn’t have a good fit on the supply pipe and so most hot water still went directly into the pool.

So the hot springs was a bust, but everything else about Eucott is great! In the morning I paddleboarded around, hoping some bears would reappear on shore (none did), and admired a waterfall and imposing granite faces at the anchorage entrance.

Elcho Harbor

We spotted a black bear again as we pulled into Elcho Harbor. This one didn’t run away as quickly, but he didn’t stick around long enough for good pictures.

Elcho Harbor is basically a 2 mile long inlet that ends in a grassy marshland with views of a mountainous valley. It’s a truly beautiful anchorage, with views of snow-capped mountains in multiple directions and sunlight filtering through densely forested slopes.

Elcho is a bit trickier to anchor in than Eucott. Instead of nice 12-17’ depths, you’ve got 50-70’ depths. But at the head of the bay it rapidly shoals into a grassy tidal marshland (good bear watching territory!). We almost ran aground as I was coming in too fast and the area is poorly charted, shoaling to 5’ in an area where the chart said we should still have 18’. Fortunately we avoided the sandbar and anchored in 50’, about 120’ away from the shelf. As long as you’re okay anchoring in 50-60’ (we switched to our rope rode), it’s no problem – the sand/mud holding is very good.

In the morning I sat in the cockpit with a cup of coffee, in a perfectly still anchorage listening to the sound of the birds. A bluejay and two hummingbirds flew around our boat, checking it out. The hummingbirds thought our orange stern line was a flower, and were also interested in the pineapple floral print seat cushions Natalie recently made for the dinghy.

A view up the very long and narrow Cascade Inlet (an offshoot of Dean Channel).

Ocean Falls

We had heard a lot about Ocean Falls from other cruisers, and knew it attracts some interest for being a “ghost town”, but we weren’t sure if it was over-hyped or not. We decided to give it a try and were happy we did – we had beautiful weather, and with many miles of walking trails lined by wildflowers, we decided to stay two nights (the marina is also very affordable – $0.50/ft, about $15 USD per night for us).

It’s 6 miles up a narrow inlet (Cousins Inlet) but with 20 kts of inflow wind, we were able to sail all the way in (on the way out we did have to motor 5 miles). We ran into our friends on S/V Long Reach again and they generously taught us how to kill, clean and eat Dungeness crab (which they caught that day in the inlet).

Ocean Falls marina got pretty busy when the Waggoner’s flotilla pulled in!

The old town part of Ocean Falls has many abandoned buildings from the days when it was a company town starting in the early 1900’s. It was kind of spooky, but also easy to imagine the residents having a pretty nice life in this remote, beautiful location. They had a library, a post office, a 1-bed hospital, an inn, and more.

Anyone need a shower?

Sailing “Beta” for Fisher and Dean Channels

[Beta is climbing lingo for routing directions or advice]

Predicting the wind in Fisher Channel and Dean Channel is difficult – Canada doesn’t issue predictions for it, and when their forecast is for NW 5-15 on the Central Coast, you could easily have S 15-20 or W 20-25 of inflow wind in Fisher and Dean.

In our experience if you have a warm, sunny week you’ll probably have inflow wind in the afternoon. It seems a good indicator is the wind state in Fisher Channel near Codville Lagoon (across from Lama Passage) or Kisameet Bay in the afternoon. If you have S 15 inflow wind there, then Dean Channel will probably have 15-20 inflow with maybe some gusts to 25. It tends to peak around 3-5pm and die down to nothing after 7pm or so.

We never had outflow wind, so don’t count on having an easy sail out of Dean Channel. I think that in a warm weather pattern, outflow wind may only come at night, and then only briefly – we had 15 kt outflow gusts coming off the mountains in Eucott Bay from 9pm-9:45.

The currents are difficult to predict in Dean Channel. The roughest part was the channel south of Ocean Falls / Cousins Inlet. There, even though we only had 15 knots of south wind, with perhaps 1 knot opposing current, the waves were about twice as bad as we’d normally have in that wind level. Steep and close spaced. It reminded me a bit of Johnstone Strait.

On the way out of Dean Channel, we were fighting the inflow winds as expected. It made for some tricky sailing because the wind goes light behind many of the points, but picks up big time in certain acceleration zones. If you constantly reef and unreef as the wind varies from 3 to 22, you’ll have a very tiring day. We found a good strategy is to reef for the higher winds and try to avoid the areas with lulls. Once or twice we motored for 5 minutes just to get out of a dead patch.

Of course, most people would just motor out the whole 25 miles. We’re crazy though and love to sail. We found the key to enjoying short tacking (~0.5-1.0 nm wide channel) in highish winds is being reefed conservatively. We double reefed the main and double reefed the genoa and were still able to go 5.5-6 kts but with less work and less stress on the rig (and us).

When double reefed, our mainsail only makes it up to the top spreader (about 12′ shorter than normal). This is still plenty of power though (upwind) if winds are around 20 kts.

In Summary

We would do this trip up Dean Channel again. Despite it being a significant amount of work to sail, it was worth it. The mountains in Dean Channel have a distinctly different feel from the outer regions of the Central Coast. It felt like we were getting a small taste of Alaska (but with a lot less work – the distances are greater in Alaska).

Certainly the hot, sunny weather was a big part of our impression. It’s hard to describe the beauty of a place like this, and I hope the photos at least partly do it justice. To really see what it’s like, you’ll just have to come here yourself.

2 thoughts on “A Sailing Adventure up Dean Channel, Central Coast of BC

  1. Mark Wentzell

    I quite enjoy your periodic (weekly?) updates. They are sensible and practical and realistic but still instill a sense of adventure. Thank you for posting/blogging

    Mark and Ruth Wentzell
    SV Sunday Mooring (out of Gibsons)

    Like

    Reply

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